Posts Tagged ‘Kings’

Cousins feeling impact of short summer


VIDEO: Tag along with the Kings as they depart for their preseason trip to China

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Now, China. After Canada and Spain and the U.S. tour, and the travelogue stops there only because Ebola concerns prompted the cancellation of the planned visit to Senegal.

Three continents and 2½ months later, and nearly a fourth before USA Basketball scrapped the Africa side trip en route to the World Cup, 24-year-old DeMarcus Cousins is feeling it. Not enough that he can’t find the energy to jab teammate Rudy Gay, an aged man of 28, and not enough to stop Cousins from arriving at Kings camp in positive spirits. But enough.

“I feel like I’m about 45 years old,” he said.

This was on Tuesday night, after the exhibition victory over the Raptors at Sleep Train Arena. The next day around noon, Cousins would board the chartered 747 as part of the Kings entourage bound for China for games against the Nets in Shanghai on Saturday and Beijing on Wednesday and a busy schedule in between to promote the NBA in a very important market. And then 11 ½ hours back across the Pacific … to close preseason with three games in three states.

Seven exhibition games in all in six cities — Vancouver, Sacramento, Shanghai, Beijing, Sacramento, San Antonio and Las Vegas — and three countries would be enough of an exhibition trek for anyone. Except that Cousins also had the full USA Basketball treatment, late-July until mid-September, mini-camp and public intra-squad scrimmage in Las Vegas to practices in Chicago before a minor knee injury kept him out of the exhibition there against Brazil, to New York for two more contests, and then Spain for a final warm-up and finally the nine games that resulted in a gold medal.

Gay also played for Team USA, after being added following the Las Vegas portion, about two weeks into the calendar. But it was Cousins, though saying he was looking forward to the experience once he got there, dreading the flight to China, as in: “I wish I could just teleport there or something. Man, it’s going to be rough.”

It gets worse. When the Kings begin the regular season, it’s with six of the first nine on the road and all nine against opponents that will likely or possibly be in the playoffs. And seven different cities. Of course a lot more pins on the map.

“I have adjusted,” Cousins said. “I’m still going through the normal practices, but I may not go every time. I may sit out a couple times. Or when we’re playing five-on-five I may not play the whole time. I’m choosing my spots when I can get a little rest. The main thing is taking care of my body after the practices.

“I’ll be fine. I’m still a young fella. I’ll be good. We should worry about Rudy. He’s up in age a little bit.”

Coach Michael Malone will obviously take the unique summer schedule for both into account. Cousins played 39 minutes total in two games against the Raptors, Gay 44.

Seeing 20-20 clearly in 2013-14

 

Over the course of a long NBA season, there are plenty of individual achievements and gaudy stat lines that make us sit up and take notice. But there are arguably none more worthy of catching our eyes than the appropriately named 20-20 club, which requires stellar work toiling on the boards to go with a big scoring game. Call them doubled-up double-doubles, if you will. And in the case of this top 10 list of stand-out games from the 2013-14 season, 20-20 is just a start:

10. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
January 15, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors — 25 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Jared Sullinger runs wild against the Raptors

Nine losses in a row. A second straight pro season languishing near the bottom of the standings. It was enough to make a guy like Sullinger want to scream. Or reach out and grab a game by the throat. Which is what he did in a dominating third quarter against the Raptors, shooting 6-for-6 from the field, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He became the first Celtic since Kevin Garnett in 2007 to have a 20-20 game and it had the desired effect, producing an 88-83 Boston win.

9. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
January 17, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers — 26 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony burns the Clippers for 26 points

On the surface, it was another dominating performance by Anthony in his drive to his summer of free agent courtship, piling up points and rebounds. It was his fifth game of 15 or more rebounds in a season when he cleaned the glass better than at any other time in his career. But of course, there are more rebounds to grab when you shoot just 4-for-23 from the field. And even though the Clippers were playing without the injured Chris Paul, they had Blake Griffin rumbling to 32 points and Jamal Crawford coming off the bench for 29 and DeAndre Jordan with a double-double (11 points, 16 rebounds) in an easy 109-95 win at Madison Square Garden.

8. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
April 11, 2014 at Chicago Bulls — 26 points, 26 rebounds


VIDEO: Andre Drummond puts up a 20-20 game in a road loss to the Bulls

The bad news is that Drummond’s impressive double-double line wasn’t enough to save his Pistons from suffering a 106-98 to the Bulls. The good news is that it’s very, very early in what has all the earmarks of becoming a memorable career. By devouring rebounds all night to tie to his career high, Drummond became the first player in NBA history to register seven games of 20 or more rebounds before his 20th birthday. (more…)

Summer Dreaming: First-time All-Stars

The regular season will only be a few weeks old when the ballots will go out for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Most of the voters won’t even have to think about the first handful of names they’ll fill in:

LeBron James. Carmelo Anthony. Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant.

Everybody wants to see the marquee stars. Nothing at all wrong with that.

But with only 24 roster spots in a league with 450 players, a few deserving players get overlooked. Sometimes for an entire career. It happened over 17 seasons, 1,199 games and 19,202 points for one of our all-time favorites, Eddie Johnson.

So in honor of Eddie, here in the Summer Dreaming headquarters, we’re going to pour a frosty drink and raise a toast to the players most deserving to make their All-Star debuts at New York in February:


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs – Go figure. He’s got the Bill Russell Trophy for being named MVP of the NBA Finals sitting on his mantle, yet Leonard has not yet been named to an All-Star team in three years in the league. Of course, a big part of that is the cap that coach Gregg Popovich puts on the minutes of all of the Spurs. That doesn’t allow for those eye-popping stats that get the attention of voters. But you’d think the coaches would recognize all the things he does at both ends of the floor and add him as a reserve.


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins puts up 29 points, nine boards and six steals on Suns

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings – Let’s just admit it. The 2014 All-Star Game was played in New Orleans and that was what got the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis the Western Conference substitute nod over Cousins. You don’t have to dive into advanced metrics. Just know that Cousins outscored Davis 22.7 to 20.8, out rebounded him 11.7 to 10 and ranked third in the league in double-doubles with 53. Of course, Boogie hasn’t gotten the respect because he hasn’t always had his head in the game, or been the best of teammates. But if he just goes back to work, it will be time to end the Kings All-Star drought that goes back to Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller in 2004.


VIDEO: Mike Conley has grown into a solid leader for the Grizzlies

Mike Conley, Grizzlies — He’s been flying beneath the radar for far too long, playing at an All-Star level for at least the past two seasons. The No. 4 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has steadily grown from a tentative young player into a solid quarterback that can run the show, get to the hoop and hit 3-pointers at a respectable rate. The trouble is a numbers game. For one, he plays in the Western Conference, which is teeming with top flight point guards — Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard. For another, his rep takes a backseat to the 1-2 front court punch of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. It’s about time Conley got some love.


VIDEO: Al Jefferson spends time with Dennis Scott

Al Jefferson, Hornets — If only the voters who gave Jefferson’s spot on the Eastern Conference team last season to Roy Hibbert could have known that the Pacers center was preparing to do a swan dive down the stretch. Much credit to first year coach Steve Clifford for giving the former Bobcats an identity and to Kemba Walker for delivering, as usual. But it was Big Al who set himself up in the middle in Charlotte and went to work, toiling and scoring and rebounding the way he has for 10 seasons. He averaged a double-double (21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds). Sometimes the guys who carry their lunch buckets to work every day should be invited to the banquet and given a chance to sit at the head table.


VIDEO: ‘The Serge Protector’ turns away eight shots against the Pelicans

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. It’s almost like they’re a single entity, because you rarely hear one name mentioned without the other. Meanwhile there’s that jumping jack just out of the spotlight who is deserving of All-Star billing, giving the Thunder the “Big Three” punch to be a top title contender year in and year out. Until the Thunder break through and win a championship, it’s not likely that fan voters or the coaches are going to give Ibaka much respect. They should. The Spurs did in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals. He’s led the league in blocks twice, is a three time All-Defensive First Team member, dunks like he’s mad at the rim and, oh, there’s also that jumper.


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers — It’s funny how your numbers and value to the team can go up when you simply get more minutes. Coach Doc Rivers came to town and got in Jordan’s ear and his head and demanded more. The former part-time highlight reel star delivered with a solid 35 minutes a game. Maybe the All-Star voters and the coaches still questioned whether he could keep it up at the midway point of last season. He did, leading the league in rebounds (13.6), finishing third in blocked shot (2.48) and eighth in double-doubles (42). Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the engines in the Clippers’ machine, but it’s Jordan delivering consistently as a defensive stopper that can fuel a rise to a championship.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 23



VIDEO: GameTime: USA Basketball final roster

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA thinks big | Rose looks fine | Birthday boy Kobe takes on the years

No. 1: Size matters to Team USA — While many eyes were on the status of Bulls guard Derrick Rose as Team USA moves closer to the start of the FIBA World Cup next week in Spain, the surprise coming out of Friday night’s final cuts was the inclusion of four big men on the final roster. Our John Schuhmann says that USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo made the decision to go with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee and that will put some pressure on Kyrie Irving, as the only full-time point guard, to hold up and perform as Team USA goes for the gold and a guaranteed berth in the 2016 Olympics:

So the U.S. will have just one full-time point guard — Irving — on the roster, with (Steph) Curry starting at shooting guard and Rose unlikely to play every game. That could be some extra burden on the Cavs’ All-Star, but the USA’s best talent is still in the backcourt and the staff clearly wanted extra depth up front, with Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee backing up Davis, who could see some time at power forward.

The need for three back-up centers is a bit puzzling, especially since Davis will likely rank first or second on the team in minutes played. Two of three back-ups will certainly have limited roles.

But the U.S. may have its sights set on the frontline of Spain, which features Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. The hosts are the clear favorites to reach the gold medal game from the other side of the bracket, though they’ll have a tougher road than the Americans.

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No. 2: Rose plays, survives final cut for World Cup — The whispers and the questions were out there ever since Derrick Rose sat out Wednesday’s warmup game against the Dominican Republic due to “general soreness.” Would he be able to withstand the grueling World Cup schedule? Would he be able to be a team leader for Team USA in Spain? Those questions were answered when Rose played 13 minutes Friday night against Puerto Rico and was named to the 12-man final roster. Chris Strauss of USA Today says that Rose’s presence is welcome in the Team USA locker room:

“Derrick brings something that we don’t have as far as being able to push the ball so fast and get into the paint, and (he’s) so athletic,” USA guard James Harden said. “He made a couple cross-court passes for open threes. He looked phenomenal.”

“I feel very confident about Derrick. I think Derrick feels very confident,” (Mike) Krzyzewski said. “I thought he played great tonight. These guys want to play with him. It’s part of getting back is to be around a group of peers. These guys are his peers who want you to be really good. You’re already really good but if James Harden wants (Curry) to be really good and (Curry) wants Derrick Rose to be really good and Kyrie, it’s a different thing. That’s what we’ve seen over the years and that’s where the brotherhood develops. It’s one of the cool things about what’s happened over the past nine years (of USA Basketball).”

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No. 3: “Old man” Kobe faces his biggest challenge — Never mind just blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. As he turns 36 Saturday, Kobe Bryant has to confront the stronger winds that surround his comeback from a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee. Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times checks with in different members of the Lakers organization and other NBA figures for a look at what to expect from the Black Mamba when training camp opens in just over five weeks:

“Quite honestly, I think we’re going to see a better Kobe Bryant than we’ve seen in the last couple of years because he’s had time to rest and rehabilitate,” said Dr. Alan Beyer, executive director of the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine.

Beyer said Bryant is not at an increased risk to reinjure the areas that sidelined him last season but acknowledged he is more susceptible to injuries associated with advanced basketball age.

Working in Bryant’s favor is an almost maniacal devotion to staying in shape and perfecting every aspect of his game. Coach Byron Scott said he had to tell Bryant to cool it when Bryant talked about wanting to play pickup games nearly two months before the start of training camp.

“I was like, ‘Slow down a little bit, Kobe,’ ” Scott said.

There could be a more awkward conversation in the days ahead. Scott said he had a target number of minutes per game in mind for Bryant — though he would not disclose it publicly and has not discussed it with his best player — intended to keep him fresh for what Scott hopes is a playoff push late in the season.

It could be a hard sell for a player notoriously stubborn about his playing time. Bryant averaged nearly 46 minutes a game in the six games preceding his Achilles’ injury in April 2013 and was on pace to play all 48 minutes against Golden State when his left foot buckled late in the fourth quarter, all in the name of helping the Lakers reach the playoffs.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Before the Timberwolves closed the deal with the Cavs to send Kevin Love to Cleveland, the Suns tried to beat the buzzer with an offer of Eric Bledsoe… Everything is different now for Heat rookie Shabazz Napier, getting used to a new league, new team, even a new basketball … It’s not your average day at the beach for Paul Pierce as he gets into shape for his first season as a Wizard.

Richmond, Marciulionis entering Hall together is a fitting outcome


VIDEO: Sarunas Marciulionis gives his Hall of Fame acceptance speech

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The so-called introduction miles in the air led to South Korea, then Oakland, then to Jim Petersen throwing up an excessive amount of food and drink, then Sacramento, then to a connection that reached Eastern Europe, and then, finally and forever, to New England last week.

Why Mitch Richmond and Sarunas Marciulionis were reunited here in late-summer 2014, after all the decades and all the vodka that had gone before them, was certain: their membership in the same Hall of Fame induction class in a wonderful time collision made better for Marciulionis by the enshrinement of former commissioner David Stern, the man who turned the NBA into a global brand. How they arrived here together was far less clear.

Richmond and Marciulionis could have, and maybe should have, been life-long adversaries. A shooting guard from South Florida, a JC in Missouri and a university in Kansas, a shooting guard one year older to the month from Lithuania and the national team of the Soviet Union. The first time either saw the other was when someone in the Soviet traveling party handed Marciulionis a magazine during a plane ride. He doesn’t remember who gave it to him or where the flight was headed, only that it was 1988 and Kansas State’s Richmond was on the cover.

“This big guy with the pretty smile,” Marciulionis said.

They were face to face the first time months later, on Sept. 28 in Seoul, the semifinals of the 1988 Olympics in the first meeting since the controversial outcome at the 1972 Munich Games. The Soviet Union won 82-76 as Marciulionis scored 19 points. And then, starting in fall 1989, they were Golden State teammates going for minutes at the same position.

Richmond had the advantage of one season of NBA experience under coach Don Nelson, and one big season at that, the run to Rookie of the Year at 22 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Plus, Marciulionis had bad habits to break in the transition to the best league in the world at a time when a player coming from Europe, and especially from behind the Iron Curtain, was a curiosity. But Marciulionis was also fearless when he arrived in Oakland, a physical player backing down from no one.

Those practices. There was no tension amid the international intrigue, no carryover from the Olympics — “Sarunas is too nice of a guy,” Chris Mullin would say in 2014, still close enough to each former teammate that both asked him to be their presenter at the Hall induction ceremony. “He’s such a sweet guy. Two different people, on the court and off the court. On the court, yes, maybe. Tunnel vision and total focus, and Mitch is like that too. But off the court, you couldn’t be mad at Sarunas. There’s no way.” And the Warriors were a tight group that loved to be in the gym anyway, with Mullin and Richmond on board and Tim Hardaway added via the 1989 draft. But Marciulionis and Richmond head-to-head was a sight.

“Guys would say, ‘Man, we thought you guys were fighting on the court,’ ” Richmond said. “I mean, we would go at it. It was just the competitiveness in both of us that we made each other better…. We pushed each other. We fought like we didn’t like each other in practice. But after that, you might see me and Sarunas going to lunch. You might see us hanging out somewhere. But when we were between those lines, man, we played like we hated each other.”

“Sarunas was the toughest guy I ever coached and Mitch was one of the most talented,” Nelson said. “Same size, same position. They just competed and both got better because of it.”

It went on like this for two seasons of ferocious battles one minute, mostly behind the scenes at practice, and friendship the next.

“I had so many things to change and improve because my fundamentals were so far behind NBA teaching, and I came over when I was 25,” Marciulionis said. “Some habits and some basics were missed because our basketball, especially the defensive end, I can’t say were unimportant, but I guess not really explained to me…. During those workouts, practices, they were schooling me all the time. I had to learn how to defend, how to keep the man close, running around those picks all the time — so many details I had to learn the hard way. I was frustrated many times, but that was very, very good training for me.”

The split, for the entire Run TMC era in Golden State, came when Richmond was traded to the Kings with Les Jepsen and a second-round pick for rookie Billy Owens at the start of 1991-92, a deal Nelson would later call one of his basketball regrets. Marciulionis played two more seasons with the Warriors, was traded to Seattle, spent one season there, and became available again. When Richmond heard, he said, he lobbied the Sacramento front office for a reunion.

That happened in 1995-96, but lasted just one season, before Marciulionis was traded again, this time to the Nuggets for what would become his final season. He returned to Lithuania, which gained its independence from the crumbling Soviet bloc in 1990, opened a basketball academy and became a businessman involved in real estate, a hotel and a sports bar among other projects.

Richmond estimated he talked to Marciulionis three or four times a year across the miles, as Richmond played until 2001-02, established a permanent residence near Los Angeles and last season joined the Kings front office that was headed by former Warriors executive Pete D’Alessandro and included Mullin as a top advisor. It helped that Marciulionis would come to winter in San Diego every year, making it easy to swing by Oakland.

“I think we’re pretty close,” Richmond said. “When we see each other, we sit down, laugh and talk and joke and talk about the stories of Sarunas Marciulionis when he used to invite us over to his house (in the Bay Area) and drink that Russian vodka. Ohhhhh, man. He had this thing, when they drink, him and his friends, they liked to box and do crazy things. Who can take a punch in the face and (stuff) like that. Oh, yeah. Oh, they were crazy. They’d be punching each other.

“He had this game where you get one punch. He’ll let you punch him first. You’ve got to punch him anywhere around here,” Richmond said, motioning to the top of his stomach, near the rib cage. “You’ve got to brace yourself. It’s got to be a quick jab. I remember we went over to the house and he was like, ‘Anybody want to do it?’

” ‘No. No. We do not.’

“(Teammate) Jim Petersen says, ‘I’ll do it.’ We’re sitting around and Jim Petersen hits him. Rooney was like, [growling sound] ‘Errrrrr.’ He just turned all red. ‘My turn. My turn.’

“Man, he hit Jim Petersen [high in the stomach.] I thought he threw up everything he ate for two years. Oh, my God. I told my wife, ‘All right, it’s time to go. Everybody, let’s go. It’s time to go.’ That’s how he was. He loved those type of games.”

Suddenly it was Friday night in Symphony Hall, Richmond at the podium with Mullin standing nearby as an official presenter and noting the opportunity to be enshrined with Marciulionis, then later Marciulionis getting his turn and likewise acknowledging the fortunate timing, also with Mullin on stage. All the years, all the countries and all the Jim Petersen regurgitation had led them here, to an unlikely place. It had led them back to being together, now forever.

Kings say they are still behind McLemore


VIDEO: Ben McLemore scored 11 points as the Kings beat the Bulls

LAS VEGAS – Here’s a statement. Two of them actually, packaged into one big picture: Ben McLemore, the shooting guard the Kings drafted in the lottery in 2013, insisted he didn’t read too much into it when the Kings used another lottery pick on another shooting guard in the 2014 draft, and team officials, naturally, say they remain committed as ever to McLemore’s future in Sacramento.

It’s all good, right? McLemore came to summer league with the proper attitude, if pressing at first, and followed that up by playing well, making 52.2 percent of his attempts and averaging 14.6 points in five games as a major part of the Kings reaching the Sunday evening semifinals of the tournament format at Thomas & Mack Center, which concludes Monday. He is doing a lot of the right things and saying all the right things.

But, look. There’s Nik Stauskas.

The Kings just drafted someone who plays the same position, a year after being overjoyed to get McLemore in 2013, complete with the emotional bends of trying hard to trade up to get him, finding no deal, and then having the Kansas product fall to their laps at No. 7.

The Kings made it a priority this offseason to add perimeter shooting, and that is Stauskas’ specialty, the primary appeal to taking him at No. 8 as part of a portfolio that also includes being able to handle the ball well enough to project as a secondary playmaker and the experience in pressure situations of one run to the national-title game at Michigan and another to the Elite Eight.

In the singular moment, with Stauskas surrounded in positives, the Kings had a good 2014 draft. It’s just that it may also become a new perspective on the direction of their 2013 draft. That is the other statement.

“I told him,” coach Michael Malone said of McLemore, ” ‘Listen, we drafted Nik Stauskas. That’s not any slight on you. We still believe in you. You’re still our guy and we still expect great things from you from Year 1 to Year 2.’ I think he came out to Summer League after one year in the NBA thinking he had to score 20 points a game. It’s not about that. It’s playing the right way as we try to instill more ball movement.”

Playing the first couple games like someone hearing footsteps, although saying he didn’t have a problem with the Stauskas pick, McLemore responded by scoring 18, 22 and 11 points the next three outings while shooting 64.3 percent and adding six rebounds on two occasions. Stauskas has also had a good summer, at 48.6 percent from the field in five outings, 57.1 percent from behind the arc, and 10.4 points.

Their play has been a key factor in the Kings reaching the semifinals against the Wizards. The winner of that game faces the winner of Hornets-Rockets on Monday night for the title.

Losing Collison is not the only problem the Clippers are facing

Darren Collison's move to the Kings is just the beginning of the Clips' challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Darren Collison’s move is just the beginning of the Clips’ new challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

At least it is basketball adversity now instead of You Know Who turbulence. But it’s still the Clippers in what could become an increasingly difficult time, wanting to take the next step after reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season but seeing offseason challenges all around them.

Thursday, backup point guard Darren Collison jumped to the Kings for a three-year deal worth a reported $16 million and, he told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, because “Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.” The Kings gave him a clear path to the starting job, in other words, an important consideration for Collison while understanding he would always be behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles, not to mention a development Isaiah Thomas will obviously keep in mind as a restricted free agent who just saw his job in Northern California given away again.

If it was Collison alone, the Clippers could take a deep breath and move ahead with the conviction that they simply were not going to spend more than $5 million a season for a reserve behind the best point guard in the world. As much as Collison helped a 57-win team, they could grab another free agent for less with master recruiter Doc Rivers. The Clips will wish him well on the payday and the opportunity they could not match.

But if this turns out to be one of several hits, obviously depending on the outcome at backup point guard, the Clippers will have a lot more to prove than whether they can get beyond the second round.

These are also the days of Pau Gasol considering Oklahoma City and San Antonio as free-agent destinations, even though it would mean a bigger pay cut than he was already facing. The defending champs getting Gasol on the cheap or the Thunder landing Gasol at a bargain rate — that’s a problem for the rest of the league in general and in particular anyone trying to come up on them in the crowded West. The Clippers, and the Rockets and the Trail Blazers and the Warriors, need Gasol to chase the money more than the ring.

Plus, the Clippers continue to search for help at small forward. They drafted Reggie Bullock in the first round in 2013, but he wasn’t ready and, based on the phone calls being fired off to free agents, still isn’t. They signed Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu for the stretch drive last season, but that was a patch job with little chance to last into 2014-15.

So they’re still looking. Maybe Paul Pierce, Rivers’ guy with the championship Celtics, maybe others through free agency or trade, but small forward is essentially unmanned, to where Collison knew that opening was impacting his own place with the team.

“I was a priority for them to sign, but I wasn’t the top priority,” Collison said told the Register. “And that’s understandable.”

A few days into free agency and the Clippers are confronted with several issues, trying to solve their own issues on the wing and now at backup point guard while taking a seat in the front row of the watch party on Gasol’s decision. They still have time and money, but if the offseason goes bad, they will also have a lot of doubts to answer as camp opens. That’s understandable too.

5 restricted free agents worth chasing

Smaller guards Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe could get some looks this summer. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Despite their stature, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe are big-time guards. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The unrestricted free agents are the ones that draw the most attention every summer, and for good reason. You pick your team and you go there. It’s all clean and simple.

It’s those restricted free agents that muddy the waters. The would-be new team has to overpay to get their attention and then the current team is put on the spot to match. Think the Pacers wouldn’t like to re-think that $58 million commitment they made to Roy Hibbert two summers ago when the Trail Blazers put them on the spot with an offer to their big man?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top five restricted free agents who’ll be available on July 1:

Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Phoenix Suns — After the Big Three of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, the 24-year-old shooting guard is the top player available in free agency, though he will come at a cost. He missed 39 games with injury, but averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals in the half season played and makes a great slashing backcourt combination with Goran Dragic. The Suns were 28-15 with him in the lineup and GM Ryan McDonough says the team will match any offer out there to keep him. Since Phoenix has plenty of salary cap space, he’ll be able to do it, even if McDonough has to grit his teeth.

Greg Monroe, Forward, Detroit Pistons – He might as well have spent the past four seasons pedaling on a stationary bicycle, getting nowhere fast with the Pistons. He’s a solid big man who gives you the feeling he might turn into an All-Star level performer with the right coaching on the right team. Since he arrived in Detroit, the Pistons added Andre Drummond and Josh Smith on their front line and there simply wasn’t room for all three in the rotation. With Joe Dumars — the GM who drafted him — gone, Drummond a foundation player and Smith perhaps untradeable (or is he?), it would seem the Pistons won’t want to lay out big money to keep him. If the Rockets strike out shooting for the big names, he’d be a good consolation prize. The New Orleans native might also fit nicely with the Pelicans, if they could find the salary space.

Chandler Parsons, Forward, Houston Rockets — Houston rolled the dice on the Parsons, choosing not to pick up his option in an attempt to clear the most salary cap space to pursue James, Anthony or Bosh. The 6-foot-9 leaper and shooter has been a high-energy gem since the Rockets plucked him in the second round in 2011. He can get to the basket, fill it up from behind the 3-point line and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in on defense. He won’t lead a team, but is a solid third option, exactly the role he’s been playing in Houston. If the Rockets get a name-brand star, he’d go to fourth option and that could make a pricey offer from another team too rich to match. There are a lot of teams where he could slide right into the lineup and really blossom.

Gordon Hayward, Forward, Utah Jazz – After four seasons, it’s pretty clear the Jazz aren’t completely convinced, as evidenced by not agreeing on a contract extension prior to last season. It seems Hayward thinks he should be paid as part of a 1-2 punch, but the truth is he’s probably more of a No. 3 type, just like Parsons. When he was put into the primary scorer role last season, his shooting numbers went down. He needs to land in a spot where he can play off his teammates, especially passers, and get back to being a very solid complementary part. Chances are, he wants to be paid a good bit more than the Jazz think he’s worth and therefore could be “gettable.” The trick will be not to overpay him by too much.

Isaiah Thomas, Guard, Sacramento Kings -- The 5-foot-9 dynamo put up 20.3 points, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals last season. He’s a hard worker, but definitely a score-first point guard at a position that requires spreading the ball around. His biggest deficiency is on defense, where his lack of size makes him too easy for opponents to pick and exploit. The Kings go through point guards faster than pairs of basketball shoes and now they seem to be leaning heavily toward the new flavor of the month in Ray McCallum. His lack of stature will limit the size of the stack of big bills placed in front of him in an offer, but still could be enough to land him in a new home.

Divac aiming for NBA return next season

Former beloved Kings center and Shaq tormentor Vlade Divac hopes to join an NBA coaching staff soon.

Former beloved Kings center and Shaq tormentor Vlade Divac hopes to join an NBA coaching staff soon.

TREVISO, Italy – This was pure Vlade Divac, awash in endless optimism while dealing with the latest in a life of personal tragedies, expressing hope he will soon return to the NBA, smiling a lot and volleying that, honestly, he didn’t get a good seat on the Spurs bandwagon because Divac is Serbian and Gregg Popovich has Serbian roots.

Divac was sitting in a chair on the baseline of one of the three gyms at the La Ghirada Sports Complex a few days ago after an appearance as a guest speaker at the adidas Eurocamp. It is a time of particular upheaval, five months after his father had been killed in a car crash in Serbia that also injured his mother, possibly a few months before he will move back to the United States to join a front office, all while serving as head of the Serbian Olympic committee as his daughter attends high school in Belgrade, one son is in college in California and another in New York. But one of the most-likable players of his or any other NBA generation seems as at ease as ever.

He grew up in the former Yugoslavia, lived through a war there that caused death and destruction all around him with the collateral damage of an emotional divide that ended friendships. He had a 16-year NBA run and a highly decorated international career. And now he is trying to get back to the future.

NBA.com: What would you like to do when you come back to the U.S.?

Divac: I would definitely find some involvement in the NBA with some team. Right after my retirement, I was doing some scouting for the Lakers. I tried to see how management works. I went to Real Madrid, worked for them for a year. That helped me to kind of develop some interest in management. So now my second term on the Olympic committee of Serbia — and I’m so proud of that, we did a great job — so something in management.

NBA.com: Have you had any conversations with anybody?

Divac: With the Kings, yeah. We’ll see.

NBA.com: What do you think you would do with them?

Divac: My ultimate goal is one day — it doesn’t have to be tomorrow or two days, three days — I want to be a GM. Go level by level.

NBA.com: Have they told you “When you’re ready to come over, we definitely want you”?

Divac: No. We just talked. I told them my view about plans. We’ll see.

NBA.com: I know it’s been a difficult time the last few months. How are you doing with the tragedy in your personal life?

Divac: OK. Life is a roller-coaster. You just have to balance. There’s always tomorrow.

NBA.com: Has it been difficult?

Divac: Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes. But when you look, there’s a lot of different stories, worse stories, than my life. What are you going to do?

NBA.com: And you’ve lived through a lot of those in your younger days.

Divac: Yeah. Absolutely.

NBA.com: Do you think you have a unique perspective, different than a lot of other people because of what you (grew up around) in your
youth?

Divac: Of course. If you went through things like that, you just learn how things can change the next day. Either positive or negative. Even when you’re so high and positive, you have to keep a balance.

NBA.com: Do you still watch a lot of NBA?

Divac: I do.

NBA.com: What jumps out to you about the game now compared to when you played?

Divac: It’s obviously more physical and faster. What bothers me is the tendency for low-post guys to not play with their back to the basket. It’s more facing. I think basketball needs that inside-outside game. If it doesn’t have that, that’s like taking heart from basketball.

NBA.com: Do you have a favorite player?

Divac: No. But I have a favorite team. I think the Spurs is a team that plays basketball the way it’s supposed to be. Sharing the ball. Gregg is a great coach.

NBA.com: What’s his background? What’s his heritage?

Divac: He’s a Serbian. But I’m not saying that because of that. You know how many people I met in the NBA. Jerry West, Gregg Popovich — that’s my two favorite guys. Even though they are totally, completely different, I have a lot of respect for them.

NBA.com: How much would your game have been changed by these new flopping rules that are in place now?

Divac: They wouldn’t take that away from me. Especially playing against Shaq. I mentioned that’s not my rule. That’s Shaq’s rule. He forced us to do that. I think it’s good that they changed because whenever you overdue it, it just takes away from the game.

NBA.com: How much money would you have been fined? How much money would you have lost over the years?

Divac: Not that much. I was doing that just against the Lakers, when I played Shaq. I don’t know. I think it’s good that they put it in. Games, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

NBA.com: You would have had to get a new contract, right, just to pay all your fine money?

Divac: The agent would make a clause. ‘The team pays the fine.’ Because I was doing that for the team, not for me.

Rudy Gay sorting through options about next season

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rudy Gay drops 30 points on Dallas Saturday night

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – He says he has not made a decision on the $19.3 million on the table or whether he wants to remain with the Kings at any price. He has so not made a decision, Rudy Gay insists, that he is asked to list a couple factors that will go into the final call and responds, “I don’t know.”

It is long after another loss at Sleep Train Arena, this time to the Knicks, in a near-empty locker room after most teammates have left. Gay is sitting in front of his stall, showered and changed and contemplating the unexpected search for career stability.

Memphis for 6 ½ seasons, and then suddenly Toronto and Sacramento in a little more than 10 months, and the career intersection over whether to stay in the current contract with $19.3 million on the books for 2014-15 or declare himself a free agent is approaching. In that setting, feeling so undefined about the future is actually understandable.

“What does my gut tell me?” Gay says of the looming decision and possibly decisions, plural. “I don’t know. My gut tells me different things every day.”

There is this, though: A lot of his comments land on the side of staying with the Kings, whether under the existing deal or by becoming a free agent that would mean giving back a large portion of the next season’s money in exchange for a the security of a larger payout over longer time. It’s light years from Gay committing to Sacramento — and in fact he says he doesn’t want to put numbers on the chances he stays “because right now I’m giving it my all and for me to tell them I’m going to be gone next year, that wouldn’t be fair” — but it is interesting.

Being 28 at the start of next training camp and being on a team that just finished at or very near the bottom of the Western Conference? “I’m not the age right now where I just have to be on a championship team,” he says. “Right now, I’m at the age where I can still make a good team great. Rebuilding, I possibly could do that too. Those are the things I have to weigh. Do I want to be on the rebuilding side? Do I want to make a good team great?”

Wanting to feel a connection where he works and lives? “These people have been so great to me. They’ve been really great to me, to my family. They’ve been great. The coaches have all welcomed with me with open arms. Everybody in the organization. Vivek (Ranadive), he’s a great owner. I think this team will be good in the future. I do think so. I’m not throwing out the notion that I will be here. They know that they have a chance of me being here.”

The thought of another life change? “It’s tough moving around when you have a family. I have a kid on the way. It’s tough. I want to be settled, obviously, and I want to be comfortable. That has a lot to do with it.” (Which is double-sided, of course. Gay may decide to hit free agency now to get the next move out of the way, rather than another season in Sacramento and the open market in summer 2015.)

And the money. Of course the money. No way he walks away from $19.3 million, right? He’s staying in the deal and will be a King at least next season, right?

“I don’t think about that at all,” he says. “I love this game. I don’t play it for money. Obviously it’s a very big plus that we make a lot to play this game, but I think it’s more important to be happy.”

But people say no one leaves that kind of money on the table.

“They’re not in the NBA,” Gay says. “Those people don’t do the job and work as hard as I do.”

So it is possible he trades the $19.3 million for a longer deal now rather than postponing the life decision another season.

“Everything’s possible. I work hard. I work very hard. I feel as though when you work hard and you do things the right way, at the end of the day you will be rewarded. Whether it’s taking that year or whether it’s opting out and signing a new contract, I feel like I will be rewarded for my hard work.”

Because either outcome is possible. Because he said he has not made a decision.

“I think I can have a future here for sure,” Gay says. “For sure. With the people we have in the front office, with the coaches, I definitely fit in here. It’s just when you get here, you’re set and you’re settled and everything’s blown over, when you have your contract and everything’s set, no matter where you are, it’s just where do we go from there? I’m looking forward to weighing my options.”